Sunday, October 05, 2008

16th century Portuguese treasure found on Skeleton Coast

Archaeologist Bruno Werz holds astrolabes pulled from the seabed off Namibia where a Portuguese ship sank 500 years ago.ARCHAEOLOGISTS are racing against time to salvage a fortune in coins and items from a 500-year-old Portuguese shipwreck found recently off
Namibia's rough southern coast. The project, in a restricted diamond mining area, is costing a fortune in sea-walling,
but the process of maintaining a dyke to keep the sea at bay will end
next Friday, surrendering what is left to the sea again.

"The vast amounts of gold coins would possibly make this discovery the largest one in Africa outside Egypt," Lisbon maritime archaeologist Francisco Alves said. The 16th-century Portuguese trade vessel was found by chance as mine workers created an artificial sand wall with bulldozers to push back the sea for diamond dredging, Namibian archaeologist Dieter Noli told reporters invited to view the site.

"One of them noticed an unusual wooden structure and round stones, which turned out to be cannonballs," he said.

The abundance of objects unearthed where the ship ran aground along Namibia's notorious Skeleton Coast, where hundreds of vessels were wrecked over the centuries, has amazed experts.

Six bronze cannon, several tonnes of copper, huge elephant tusks, pewter tableware, navigational instruments and a variety of weapons, including swords, sabres and knives, have been pulled from the sand.

More than 2300 gold coins weighing about 21 kilograms and 1.5 kilograms of silver coins had been found, Mr Alves said. The ship's contents suggest it was bound for India or Asia.

"About 70% of the gold coins are Spanish, the rest Portuguese," he said. Precise dating was
possible thanks to examination of the coin rims, showing some were minted in October 1525 in Portugal.


About 13 tonnes of copper ingots, eight tonnes of tin and more than 50 large elephant
tusks together weighing 600 kilograms have also been excavated from the seabed.The copper ingots are all marked with a trident indent, which was used by Germany's famous Fugger family of traders and bankers in Augsburg who delivered to the Portuguese five centuries ago," South African archaeologist Bruno Werz said.

The copper ingots are all marked with a trident indent, which was used by Germany's famous Fugger family of traders and bankers in Augsburg who delivered to the Portuguese five centuries ago," South African archaeologist Bruno Werz said.

At one point it was thought the wreck was the ship of legendary Portuguese explorer Bartolomeo Diaz, the first known European to sail around the southern tip of Africa in 1488.

Around 1500, he and his sailing vessel went missing and were never found.


But
hope that the Oranjemund find might resolve the mystery ended when it
was established that the coins on the shipwreck were put into
circulation 25 years after Diaz's disappearance.